President Gerald Ford: Personal Life and Marriage

About the personal life of President of the United States Gerald Ford including his marriage to Betty.

GERALD RUDOLPH FORD, JR.

Personal Life: Despite his popularity in high school and college, Ford did not lead a particularly active social life. As one of his best friends recalls: "I don't know more than 5 girls Jerry dated. He just didn't have the money or the time. Compared to the average college guy--a date every weekend--hell, he just didn't do that." Shortly after he arrived at Yale in 1935, Ford started dating an elegant beauty named Phyllis Brown--a student at Connecticut College (then Connecticut College for Women) and later a New York fashion model. They saw each other on a steady-date basis for 4 1/2 years, and Ford even took Phyllis home with him to meet his family. "I almost married that girl," he recalls, but for some reason the relationship broke up before Jerry graduated from law school. His next serious involvement did not come until after the war, when Ford was 34. In the autumn of 1947, he decided to contact an old acquaintance in Grand Rapids, Betty Bloomer, who had just won a divorce decree from her husband of 5 years. Betty, who was 30, was serving as fashion coordinator at a local department store. She had worked several years as a model, but her main interest had always been dance. For 2 years she had studied in New York with the famous Martha Graham, before her worried parents persuaded her to return to Grand Rapids and "settle down." Then came her marriage to William Warren, a traveling salesman-a marriage, Betty says, "I could just as well have skipped." There were no children, and the divorce was uncontested. When Ford called her shortly after the decree was finalized, Betty remembers that he insisted that she see him that same evening. "So we went around the corner to a small bar that we knew, sat in a booth, and talked for quite a while. There were many dates later that were not quite so spur-of-the-moment, you know, but so far as I was concerned, that 1st date was it!" Jerry proposed in February of '48, but the wedding was delayed for political reasons: Ford did not want his marriage to a divorcee and a former dancer to jeopardize his chances in the hotly contested Republican primary during his 1st race for Congress. The wedding finally took place on October 15, 1948-after the primary but before the general election. The day after the ceremony, the newlyweds left for a brief honeymoon: Ford took his bride to a University of Michigan football game. Then, after one night in a Detroit hotel, they returned to Grand Rapids so that Jerry could resume his campaigning.

In the years of marriage that followed, Betty kept house and raised their 4 children while Jerry concentrated on his political career. He accepted as many as 200 speaking engagements a year, which meant that he often came home-if at all-only after his family was in bed. Betty's attempts to get Jerry to help around their suburban Washington home generally ended in disaster. "He hangs the screen doors upside down," she reports. "When I said, 'Jerry, you've done it all wrong,' he said, 'OK, if you don't like the way I did it, hire somebody.' I got the message right there. Don't ask him to do anything around the house." In 1965, Betty's domestic responsibilities-including exhausting service as a cub-scout den mother-proved too much for her. She began complaining of a pinched nerve in her neck, which left her in almost constant pain. Doctors reported that many of her symptoms were psychosomatic, and she soon began psychotherapy. After that, Betty depended on tranquilizers-she has admitted to taking them at least once every day. In order to help Betty "gear down," Ford himself submitted to 3 consultations with her psychiatrist. He finally promised his wife that he would retire from politics after 1976-but then came his appointment as Vice-President and his elevation to the Presidency. These events ended Ford's retirement plans, and even after his wife's breast cancer surgery in the fall of 1974, he denied any intention of scaling down his political activities. Nevertheless, Betty describes him as a "good husband" by Washington standards, and proudly tells reporters that even after 25 years of marriage, she and Jerry still "go to bed together."

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